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States Tinker With Grading System… But WHY???… The Results Will Always Be the Same

November 6, 2017

This morning several articles on my Google Public News Feed deal with changes in the grading systems states will use as part of their implementation of ESSA. One of the articles, “No More Curve” by Will Sentel of The Advocate, a Louisiana publication, describes how the State Board of Education in that state will be abandoning the bell curve they used following the implementation of the Common Core in favor of a grading system that would ensure that an “A” in Louisiana was the same as an “A” in other states… an decision that will result in roughly 57% of the LA schools receiving an “F”.

The Decatur Daily reporter John Godbey wrote about the new grading system to be imposed by the Alabama legislature that will be based mainly on growth as measured by the ACT’s standardized tests for K-12 students. He wrote as best he could, but it is difficult to write about a grading process that is nclear to even the Superintendents in the region. As he reported:

Decatur-area superintendents said they remain baffled by the process.

“We have not been informed about what our grade will be,” Decatur City Superintendent Michael Douglas said. “We got a formula last year, and I know enrichment growth is a component, but it’s so complicated I can’t tell you what we’ll get.”

And in Michigan, they are rolling out a new grading system as well, replacing a system in place for several years based primarily on test scores with one that has a host of easy-to-measure data. As reported by Louise Wrege in the Benton Harbor Herald Palladium who spoke with State Superintendent Brian Whitson:

Under a new benchmark system, he said student performance on the state’s standardized test will only count for 29 percent of the school district’s score. He said the rest of a district’s score will be based 34 percent on student growth, 10 percent on the graduation rate, 10 percent on the success of English language learners, 3 percent on parent participation and 14 percent on additional factors, such as do the students have chronic absenteeism or access to art, music and gym classes

In the end, all of the grading systems will have the same result: schools that serve children raised in affluence will drastically outscore schools that serve children in poverty… and the correlate finding: schools in districts that spend the most will “outperform” schools that spend the least. And, fortunately for the “reformers” who love these rankings, there will be outliers. There will be a district or two from the high-poverty-low-spending demographic that get good grades and a district or two in the high-spending-low-poverty demographic who do poorly… and they will serve as the posted children for two mantras: “The failing schools should learn from the successful ones” and “Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it”.

States can grade schools and grade districts from now until eternity, but until there are equitable funding formulas in every state and education funding has the same priority as funding for our endless wars we will continue to wring our hands over the low achievement of children raised in poverty… or rub our hands together in hopes of making a fortune in managing the schools serving those children to no good effect.

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